“Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open hear. When you do that, the game- and life- will take care of itself.”
- The Zen Master, Phil Jackson
When the basketball gods close a door, they open a window. After spending months fawning over Karl-Anthony Towns, he was snatched from the Knicks’ grasp by Minnesota, a Tim Hardaway Jr. game-winner, and some ping-pong balls. As it turns out, falling to fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Knicks.
Kristaps Porzingis has been a swell consolation prize. In the wake of the five-year deal Tom Thibodeau signed with the Timberwolves, Knicks fans might be in store for another blessing in disguise from the b-ball gods.
Reports indicate that the Knicks’ coaching search has narrowed down to David Blatt, and the incumbent Kurt Rambis, who took over after the Derek Fisher firing. Spending time explaining why Blatt is a more qualified coach than Kurt “65-164” Rambis would just belittle one of the best international coaches in recent history. He is much more than the ‘anyone but Rambis’ many Knicks fans are calling for, and with Thibodeau signed, he’s most likely the best available coach not named Jeff Van Gundy (whose future as a coach is still uncertain). Signing David Blatt wouldn’t amount to picking the lesser of two evils; it would be a sign that the Knicks are looking to build something great over the long-term.
Making Sense of Blatt’s Uninspiring Stint in Cleveland
David Blatt was dropped into the absolute worst possible situation in Cleveland. Initially brought in to help build a foundation based on young players like Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, the climate quickly changed to ‘Win-Now’ when LeBron James announced his return.
Admittedly, Blatt didn’t handle the situation in Cleveland as well as he could have. Still, it was clear from the start that LeBron unwilling to be directed by the rookie NBA coach and his days were numbered from the start:
Making the Case: A Blatt Defense
The case for Blatt begins at the defensive end; since the departure of Jeff Van Gundy in 2001, the Knicks have been the worst defensive team in the league. Their defense has been ranked in the top half of the league twice, with the only top ten finish coming during the lockout shortened season:
It doesn’t matter how good your offense is when your opponents score at will.
Conversely, in the last full month under Blatt, the Cavs were the second best defensive team in the league behind only the historically dominant Spurs’ defense. After Lue took the reigns in late January, the Cavs promptly slid to 13th in defensive efficiency.
Concerns Surrounding the Triangle and Carmelo
As long as this defining geometric issue still looms over the Garden, it may not matter how capably Blatt constructs the Knicks’ defensive system. It looks increasingly likely that Phil Jackson intends on running the triangle in New York – it’s why Rambis was brought in, and possibly why Jackson never reached out to Thibodeau. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Blatt would be willing to run the triangle:
“He’d be absolutely willing to run the triangle,’’ [a] NBA personnel director said. “There’s not great similarities between the two, but it is in the fundamental notion of ball movement, taking what the defense gives you.”
The remaining question mark would be Knick’s superstar Carmelo Anthony, whose friendship with James is well-documented.
Would Anthony embrace a coach that his close friend practically ran out-of-town?
Anthony has repeatedly expressed concerns about his championship window, a window seemingly shrinks every second he remains in New York. A parting of ways may be best for both parties, yet Anthony’s love for The Big City has made him reluctant to waive the No-Trade Clause written into his contract. If Anthony is persuaded by James concerning Blatt’s coaching abilities, it may be enough for him to waive his No-Trade Clause, allowing the Knicks to finally rebuild.
The Knicks shouldn’t base their decision on Carmelo, despite his status within the organization: Kristaps is the future of the organization and should be treated as such. Management has a duty to look beyond Anthony’s window to secure the best possible future of the franchise.
Blatt is willing to run the triangle, he played alongside Knicks’ General Manager Steve Mills at Princeton, and above all else, he’s an excellent coach whose expertise on the defensive end could provide the answer that the Knicks have sorely missed for the past fifteen years. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the door is closed on a Tom Thibodeau Knicks; but all the pieces may be in the right places for David Blatt to achieve in New York what he never had the opportunity to achieve in Cleveland.
By Tyler Marko